Should Transgender Men Register for the Draft? Lawmaker Says Yes 'If They Want to Be Treated Like Men'

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Rep. Tim Burchett
Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., arrives for a meeting with fellow House Republicans, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, April 26, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

As Republicans continue to make anti-LGBTQ+ messaging a central part of their political strategy, one GOP congressman has a novel proposal aimed at transgender Americans: Make transgender men register for the draft.

The idea comes in the form of an amendment to the annual defense policy bill proposed by far-right Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn. The amendment would change the requirements to register for Selective Service by defining "male citizen of the United States" as including a "transgender person who identifies as male.''

"If they want to be treated like men, then they need to do what other men do and register for the Selective Service and get called up like everybody else," Burchett said in a statement to Military.com.

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"This group of people is more protected than any other group, and it's not right," he added about a group of people who have been the subject of more than 200 proposed state laws this year targeting their rights and are four times more likely to be victims of a violent crime than non-transgender people.

Transgender people have been able to serve openly in the military since the start of the Biden administration. But under current law, no one who was assigned female at birth is required to register for the draft regardless of whether they have transitioned to male, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Burchett's proposal recalls an episode in 2016 when then-Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., proposed making women register for the draft as a way to voice his opposition to opening all combat jobs to women, intending to trap Democrats on the issue. To Hunter's surprise, his amendment was approved on a bipartisan basis, though it was later taken out of the version of the defense bill signed into law that year, and women are still not required to register.

It's unclear if Burchett's amendment will get a vote when the defense bill, called the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, hits the House floor next week, or if it would receive majority support. More than 1,400 amendments have been filed for the NDAA this year, and typically just a fraction of proposed amendments get votes. The House Rules Committee is scheduled to decide Tuesday which amendments will come to the floor for a vote.

But Burchett's proposal fits into the pattern of Republican lawmakers using this year's NDAA to target social issues, including LGBTQ+ rights. The underlying bill already includes language that would ban Pentagon funding for drag shows; require the Pentagon to study the effect on the military of an executive order to prevent gender identity discrimination, a provision Republicans framed as necessary to protect cisgender women from transgender women using the same bathroom; and enact a "parents' bill of rights” for Defense Department schools, which Republicans argued is needed to root out "radical progressive ideologies."

Several other GOP amendments that were filed ahead of next week's floor debate seek to go further than what's already in the bill. They include at least four separate amendments that would limit or prohibit gender affirmation health care for service members and their families; one to limit the ability of service members to transfer duty stations because of anti-LGBTQ+ state laws; one to bar transgender service members from using bathrooms, showers and housing that aligns with their gender identity; and one to ban books on "radical gender ideology" in Defense Department schools, though the amendment doesn't define what that phrase means.

Conversely, Democrats, led by Rep. Sara Jacobs of California, have filed an amendment aimed at protecting transgender service members that would ensure anyone who meets occupational standards can serve in the military regardless of race, color, national origin, religion or sex, which the measure specifies includes gender identity and sexual orientation.

The same amendment passed the House during the 2019 NDAA debate, though it was later taken out of the final version of the bill that became law. At the time, 10 Republicans voted in support of the amendment. All but two of those Republicans are no longer in Congress, and one of the two who is still in, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., has since become one of the party's harshest critics of the Biden administration and progressive policies in the military.

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

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